As you may know, I’m not one to recommend a product unless I own the product myself and can attest to its worthiness to make my list of recommendations. Until now, I have not recommended a camera system outside of Canon’s lineup simply because I haven’t found one worthy of recommendation. That changed when I got my hands on Fuji’s X-Pro1 camera system and began putting it through its paces.
The Fuji X-Pro1 can best be described as a mirrorless, hybrid rangefinder system, similar to the Leica M-series camera. While it appears to be based around the best-selling Fuji X100 camera, it features interchangeable lenses whereas the X100 is a fixed-lens camera. While the camera resembles the classic rangefinder cameras such as the Leica, it offers much more control, resolution, modern technology, and ease of use than the Leica for about 1/5th the cost.
This camera system will definitely appeal to the “street photographer” with its oversized optical viewfinder showing the subject before it moves into the frame and various mechanical dials allowing the photographer to adjust settings with the camera held up to the eye. Although this camera may be a street photographer’s dream, it is easy enough to use that I can confidently recommend it to anyone interested in more than just “camera phone photography.” Sure, it might take a short while to learn the ins-and-outs of the camera, but the rewards in terms of image quality outweigh the work you’ll need to put into it as a novice. For those people who already know and understand how to operate a modern digital-SLR camera, you should have no problem picking up the camera and begin using it within minutes. Now let’s take a look at some of the key components of the X-pro1:
The X-Pro1 boats a fantastic 16.3 megapixel APS-C sized “X-Trans” CMOS sensor. Fuji removed the optical low-pass filter found in many camera sensors, allowing the X-Pro1 to achieve even higher resolution while at the same time adding a new type of color filter array that mimics film grain.
The APS-C sized sensor is commonly seen in pro-sumer grade digital SLR’s but not very often in the compact camera lineup, the exception being the Sony NEX cameras and the Samsung’s NX series. The larger sensor equates to higher resolution and the X-Pro1 lives up to the manufacturer’s claim that the camera will out-resolve most APS-C digital SLR’s and even some full-frame sensor cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II. We were pleasantly surprised and excited when these claims were confirmed in our independent tests.
What sets this sensor apart from other APS-C sensors, and what allows it to out-resolve them, is the lack of a low-pass filter, combined with a unique randomized pixel pattern, as shown below. This randomized pixel pattern not only helps with image quality, it also gives the images more of a film look as it mimics the way silver-halide film works. Again, this is another reason the X-Pro1 appeals to many street photographers, and to those who appreciate and shoot monochrome images.
Lenses and Lens Mount
The news lens mount which Fuji calls the “X lens mount” features a short flange back distance of only 17.7mm, allowing you to attach any of Fuji’s X-mount lenses (three available at launch with more on the way.) The lenses feature a traditional aperture ring just like the old 35mm film camera lenses, and an iris diaphragm with rounded aperture blades, allowing for some amazing bokeh potential. Fuji also offers lens mount adapters allowing you to use some of the lenses you may already own (including all of your Leica M-mount lenses.)
At launch, Fuji only offered three lenses for the X-Pro1 (an 18mm f/2, 35mm f/1.4, and a 60mm 2.4 macro) but has since added a zoom lens and plans to offer even more lenses in the future. Since these lenses are prime lenses, you’ll have to “zoom with your feet,” just like in the old days, which is something that is appealing to many, yet may be a drawback to others.
If you had to pick just one lens to start with, I’d strongly recommend the 35mm f/1.4. It’s a very fast lens with a natural focal length of 53mm (35mm multiplied by 1.6 due to the APS-C sized sensor.) Street photographers, photojournalists, and “happy-snappers” will enjoy the focal length and speed of this lens.
With super fast lenses ranging in apertures from f/1.4 to f/2.4, combined with useable images up to ISO 25,600, the X-Pro1 is very well suited for low-light photography. The camera does not come with a built in flash of any sort, although Fuji does make a compact flash for the camera which fits very nicely and looks natural on the camera (street price of $199.95.)
Besides the Canon 1DX camera that retails for over $6,000, I have not owned a camera that can achieve useable images at ISO 25,600. This in and of itself is a huge accomplishment for Fuji and makes the X-Pro1 even more versatile for a wide range of uses.
The X-Pro1 has 49 autofocus points in a 7×7 grid and allows users to change the size of the focus point via the rear command dial. If you’re coming from a digital-SLR, you’ll notice the autofocus is slower than you’re used to but not by much. Not surprising, of the three main prime lenses, the 18mm is the quickest with autofocus locking in around 0.2 seconds, while the 60mm macro is the slowest, taking up to 1 second to autofocus. For most users, these delays are completely manageable and if you’re a street photographer, you’ll primarily be shooting in manual focus mode anyway.
Since the X-Pro lenses are electronic “focus-by-wire” as opposed to a physical manual focus like the Leica’s Leitz Summicron lenses, for example, it takes quite a bit of turning to focus from the closest distance to infinity. That said, it may be a better idea to use the AFL/AEL button on the rear of the camera to set focus automatically and then micro-adjust if necessary.
Pressing the rear control dial tells the X-Pro1 to magnify the view in the electronic viewfinder or LCD, allowing you to more precisely focus—something that may be very useful for macro shots with the 60mm lens, yet somewhat impractical for street photography and candid shots where quick, albeit less precise focusing is required.
The X-Pro1 uses a focal-plane shutter much like a digital-SLR camera which does make the shutter slightly louder than other rangefinder type cameras such as the Leica M series, but is certainly acceptable even for street photography and candid shots. One cool feature the X-Pro1 offers is its “Silent Mode,” which turns off the speaker, autofocus assist lamp, flash (if attached), and the artificial shutter-release sound—perfect for street and candid photographers.
The viewfinder is a hybrid optical-electronic type, although even when using the optical mode, data is still displayed in the viewfinder for the photographer, very similar to the way digital-SLR’s operate. When using any of the X-mount lenses Fuji offers, the lens data is communicated to the camera and the camera in turn displays a frame in the viewfinder, showing the photographer where the image area is. An eye sensor near the viewfinder automatically switches the viewfinder to whichever mode you choose (optical or electronic) when you put the camera to your eye. In our testing, the “eye sensor” worked flawlessly when we were taking photos in landscape orientation but we did have some problems with it working when composing in portrait orientation. This may have been an isolated incident as we were shooting outdoors with bright sunlight behind us, possibly fooling the sensor but I felt it was worth mentioning in case you notice the same thing when using your camera.
The X-Pro1 features a large 3” LCD screen boasting an impressive 1,230,000 dpi resolution which helps when taking advantage of the camera’s ability to record full HD 1080p movies at 24fps.
The X-Pro1 is one sturdy camera, comparable to the rugged Leica cameras. It features a die-cast magnesium alloy top and base plate and beautifully machined “mechanical” control dials. I say “mechanical” dials because although they resemble and operate like mechanical dials, they’re all electronically controlled. Thankfully, the outstanding build quality doesn’t add excessive weight to the camera as it weighs a mere 450 grams with the battery and memory card fitted and only 740 grams with the 35mm lens attached, along with a metal Arca-Swiss style tripod plate, camera strap, and lens filter.
The X-Pro1 measures 139.5 (W) x 81.8 (H) x 42.5 (D) mm, it’s taller, wider and deeper than all other current compact system cameras. There are a few plastic buttons and controls on the X-Pro1 which we would have liked to see made more durable, but certainly aren’t a deal-breaker for the camera. The one plastic piece I am somewhat concerned about, however, is the plastic tab that holds the battery in place when the battery compartment door is open. This plastic battery release was broken on the first camera I received and although that camera was a demo and may have had the tab forced by the previous user, it still made me a little nervous about breakage.
This is one of those cameras you need to pick up and try out for yourself to truly appreciate. I can’t say enough positive things about it but it has definitely earned a rightful spot on my “Recommended List” and is quickly becoming the camera I carry around day-to-day and on vacations and outings. While it won’t replace a top-of-the-line digital-SLR in terms of functionality (ie: wildlife and sports photography), it will fill in all the spots where lugging around that big DSLR becomes less and less practical.
NOTE: Also, If you decide to purchase this camera used, or you buy a new camera from an early batch, be sure to upgrade the firmware of both the camera and the lenses as there have been major improvements made over the past 18 months to address consumer concerns with camera operation, specifically in regards to autofocus performance, operational speed, and handling. Visit Fujifilm’s firmware update page for the X-Pro1 to download the latest firmwares.
Below is just a sampling of some photos I took using the X-Pro1 with the 18mm f/2 lens attached. The black and white photos were finished in Silver Efex Pro and the color shots are straight out of the camera (click on an image to enlarge it:)